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WASHINGTON — Three federally recognized South Dakota Sioux tribes filed an injunction in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia on Wednesday to stop Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin from including Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) in the distribution of the $8 billion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act for tribal governments.

In the lawsuit, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe seek declaratory and injunctive relief in the federal district court to stop any funds going to the ANCs.

The lawsuits do not attempt to stop funds to tribal governments in Alaska, but only the ANCs, which the plaintiff tribes maintain are state-chartered and for-profit corporations, not tribes.

In the lawsuit, the Sioux tribes maintain the ANCs do not employ large numbers of tribal citizens or assist the local Alaska village economies. The United States does not recognize Alaska Native Corporations and Congress did not intend for corporations to be eligible for relief funds designed to assist government institutions; therefore, they should not reap the benefits of the CARES Act in such a substantial way, the filing states. 

In a press release issued by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the tribes say “Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs (ASIA) Tara Sweeney, is recommending a grossly unfair allocation plan to the US Treasury Department.” 

Sweeney, an Alaska Native and former executive at Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, an ANC based in Utqiagvik, Alaska, came under fire early last week when she disclosed she interpreted the CARES Act to include ANCs.

The Sioux tribes’ lawsuit argues ANCs constitute a minority of the indigenous population in the United States.

According to the last US Census, Alaskan Natives have a population of approximately 106,660, which is only 1.5 percent of the more than 6.7 million Native Americans living in the United States today.

The lawsuit also refers to a leaked spreadsheet document that included sensitive financial and demographic data about the tribes and ANCs.  In the spreadsheet, all 12 Alaska regional ANCs and numerous village ANCs had allegedly submitted requests for Title V Coronavirus relief funds, based on population, land base, employees, and expenditures.

Using the leaked data, which has not been authenticated, the South Dakota tribes show a contrast between one of largest ANCs and the Cheyenne River and Rosebud Sioux tribes.  

The lawsuit notes: “By way of example, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, which encompasses Barrow and Point Hope, Alaska, claimed 13,021 members, 4,094,101 acres of the land base, 12,146 employees, and reported $3,706,885,000.00 in total expenditures for the last fiscal year.

“By contrast, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has roughly 22,000 members, 2.8million acres, nearly 900 employees, and approximately $112,000,000 in total expenditures for the last fiscal year, and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe has roughly 35,600 members, 1.26 million acres, 800 employees, and similar total expenditures.”

The CARES Act funds designated for tribes are due to be distributed on April 26, 2020.

The Cheyenne River Sioux is represented by Big Fire Law & Policy Group, based in Bellevue, Nebraska; the Rosebud Sioux Tribe is represented by the Native American Relief Fund (NARF)’s Anchorage, Alaska office; and the Oglala Sioux Tribes is represented by its own tribal legal department.   

CLICK to read the lawsuit.   

Editor's Note:  This story has been updated to include additional information from the court filing. 

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